Researcher Dr. Francine Patterson, who taught Koko the Gorilla a variation of American Sign Language once said, "Perhaps our most interesting findings relate to how astonishingly like us gorillas are or how like them we are."
Last month, Rwandan police caught poachers smuggling a baby mountain gorilla taken from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After exploring the article, it becomes clear that the eight month old female was taken for the international pet trade; a form of wildlife trafficking that dangerously depletes natural resources in a short span of time.
The baby gorilla was found "asleep in a tight, tense ball on the bed" and is currently quarantined. The incident is a clear example of the serious threat this species faces.
In 1986, gorillas were considered Vulnerable on the Conservation Scale. Since then, gorilla numbers have been on the decline. By large, their biggest threats are habitat loss, exposure to diseases and poaching with 60% of their abundance lost in the past 20-25 years. Currently, they are considered critically endangered.
Forests are cleared for agricultural purposes; destroying their habitat and depleting their food sources as a result. Humans and gorillas are vulnerable to many of the same diseases without the same immunities. As such, those that are not very harmful to humans can devastate a population of gorillas. This is why any human contact has the potential to be dangerous for their survival.
Apart from this, poaching remains a threat despite strong patrols and anti-poaching laws. Human conflict in their surrounding areas has also resulted in violence towards Mountain Gorillas.
Humans and gorillas share more than 90% of their DNA. In addition, gorillas are highly intelligent, emotional creatures that possess strong bonds with family members and have the ability to use tools for various purposes. Are we able to feel a sense of kinship towards a species so similar to ours? Or is anything apart from humans too far to consider our own?
If it is not empathy for our kind, that prohibits humans from causing serious harm to these animals, we should consider the balance required by a healthy planet that includes all types of wildlife.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme aims to protect and conserve mountain gorillas and their habitat in three African countries. By partnering with each country’s protected area authorities, they look to affect conservation policy and legislation. Check out their website to learn more about their cause!